One of the most thrilling debuts of the year, Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold goes back to the first principles of punk that get forgotten every so often: speed, precision, brains and attitude. The group is a very simple quartet — two guitars, bass, drums, and a pair of yelpers who take turns one-upping each other — and they knocked out the album in a three-day weekend (after a year of woodshedding and live shows). But it’s as bracing and funny as NYC rock gets, packed end-to-end with crisp little hooks, and populated by songs that get straight to the point and get out. (Seven out of 15 are less than two minutes long; the only one that sticks around for more than five minutes is the two-chord wonder “Stoned and Starving.”)
The group’s de facto frontman Andrew Savage — who’s also played in Fergus & Geronimo and Teenage Cool Kids, among other bands — met his fellow singer/guitarist Austin Brown in college in Texas. Along with Savage’s brother Max and former Bostonian bassist Sean Yeaton, they moved to New York City and started Parquet Courts, armed with some very strong opinions about what punk culture needs to do.
As the band set up for one of their many gigs, eMusic’s Douglas Wolk talked with them about their place in the New York scene, the inspirations behind their sound and graphics, and their feelings about what’s missing in music right now.
On how Parquet Courts developed their sound:
Andrew Savage: It was fairly premeditated. One of the first things we did was release a mix tape of influences for the band — we had an idea of what we wanted to do. We all, for the most part, like a lot of the same music. And we all really like writing; everyone’s a writer, in the band, in some capacity. That’s one common ground that we all have.
Austin Brown: We were writing together and playing together for over a year before we recorded Light Up Gold.
Sean Yeaton: A lot of the songs are riffs that we really had fun playing. Most of the songs only have one or two parts — we decided we didn’t really need anything else, because we were fine with what we had.
On the difference between being a Texas band and being a New York band:
Savage: The scene we came out of, those of us who are from Texas, is, I think, a little more sincere than a lot of stuff that’s been coming out of New York for the last decade. It comes from a more punk background. There are a lot of bands that have been coming out of where I’m from, Denton, doing interesting stuff. There’s always music going on in New York, but as far as the kind of music we do, the scene we exist in is kind of going through a change right now. There’s a shift in underground guitar-based music — things are going away from the indie-rock side, and swinging back over to the punk side. Or so I would like to think.
On the distinction between “indie rock” and “punk”:
Savage: Words like “indie” and “counter-culture” and “alternative” have become meaningless terms, but you gotta remember that when those terms came about, some things were counter to the main culture. A lot of indie rock is just a scaled-down version of pop culture. But there are still people like us who want to present an aesthetic alternative: something that’s different from pop music. We’re not the only ones doing it; there are bands like the Men and PC Worship that are coming out of New York. What it comes down to is an attitude and sincerity. One thing that lacks in the stuff they call indie rock is emotional honesty.
On Light Up Gold‘s snarling opener, “Master of My Craft”:
Brown: “Master of My Craft” is a third-person perspective from someone who…possibly would be like an established person from the New York scene, telling another person that they kind of know everything. It’s more of a dialogue than a story.
On the album’s impassioned closer, “Picture of Health”:
Savage: It’s a song about someone I know — something I wanted to say to someone who, at the time, I couldn’t necessarily say it to. I really thought about cutting that song from Light Up Gold, and still, when I listen to the record myself, that song I don’t listen to. It’s just different; it comes out with a Guided By Voices kind of sound, which I would say otherwise isn’t really on the record.
On the visual presentation of Parquet Courts:
Savage: I do most of the art. The style that I’ve been working on for a while has became associated with Dull Tools, the label that me and my friend Chris Pickering do. When you see a Black Flag record and see the Raymond Pettibon art, you think “man, that’s gotta be pretty cool” — and then you hear the band and it kind of all makes sense. There aren’t too many bands who care about that any more, which is maybe another distinguishing factor between really good music and stuff that’s really blasé.